Favorite

A Baking Tradition 

Diane Chapman and the B Line know how to bake up an amazing coconut cream pie

With due apologies to my diabetician--who I fervently hope will not be reading this--I confess to coming under the spell of a pretty amazing woman. Her name is Diane Chapman, and if you have any sense at all, you'll head down to The B Line Café on Fourth Avenue to fall in thrall yourself.

After dinner a few weeks ago, Alec, Michael, Andrew and I walked a few blocks to the B Line for coffee and dessert. I'm not much of a dessert guy, but a slice of something from the B Line's pastry case has always been a nice conclusion to one of Alec and Michael's dazzlingly simple and fine meals. We browsed the case--the berry pies and cheesecake looked mighty good, as did the deep-dish peach pie with crumblies. But I liked the look of the coconut cream pie, decided I had been eating more-or-less healthily for the past month, and ordered it up.

Let's make a good thing of a bad movie title and call it love at first bite.

Perfect flaky crust. A layer of toasted coconut between that crust and a rich, thick custard, all topped with a lightly browned, firm cloud of meringue. Every forkful made my mouth water for more. I became dangerously territorial, disdainful of my friends' offers to share, cold to their covetous glances at my plate.

The only problem with this pie was that it disappeared far too fast. I knew I needed to meet its maker.

Which is what happened the other morning when Andrew and I headed downtown for breakfast at the B Line and a conversation with Diane. Some 90 minutes later, I walked away a happy man with a new friendship and a golden recipe. I'll share both.

Diane is all but a native Tucsonan, having come here as a babe, and she attended Salpointe and the UA, where she studied Spanish and creative writing. She lives with her longtime partner, Amy, and they are raising a daughter who is already showing signs, says Diane, of having an interest in baking. This is good news, because she will be carrying on what is clearly a noble family tradition.

"I learned about baking from my mom and grandma ... it started early--I must have been 6 or 8 when I started making pies," she said, adding that she still loves to watch how the texture of the dough transforms and its colors change. She says the berry pies are her favorite. "I remember once when I was a kid in school--maybe second grade--and we were eating cookies. We were deciding what we wanted to be, and I thought it would be a pretty good idea to be a cake decorator, because then I could eat all the frosting I wanted."

She clearly hasn't eaten too much frosting. She's 38, energetic and runs on a regular basis. Being fit is probably something she picked up as a childhood survival skill, being one of eight siblings, but it must have also been honed from her days as a firefighter with the Tucson Fire Department.

Yep.

"I was a better baker than a firefighter," she recalled. "And they liked having me in the kitchen." This is not difficult to imagine for any number of reasons. One day, she was in the middle of baking bread when they got a call. "The dough was rising, and I left it in the hot kitchen when we had to go out. By the time we got back in, it had risen, overflowed and was all over the place. The worst part was that it had spilled over onto the stove ... it was a mess!"

Here's the B Line's Coconut Cream Pie--courtesy of Josh, Chris and Peter--made with Diane Chapman's amazing skills.

  • Baked pie shell (cooled)
  • Deep, large pie plate
  • 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 cups flaked toasted coconut (unsweetened)
For the custard:
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/8 cup corn starch
  • 3 3/8 cups whole milk
  • 6 egg yolks (reserve whites for meringue)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
For the meringue:
  • 6 egg whites
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Heaping 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons corn starch
Put coconut in bottom of baked and cooled pie shell. For custard, mix sugar, corn starch, milk and yolks in medium saucepan. Cook, stirring over medium heat, until it boils and thickens--about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and coconut extract, and pour custard mixture into pie shell.

Mix remaining corn starch and sugar in a small bowl. In another bowl, beat egg whites, salt and cream of tartar on medium high until very foamy, then gradually add sugar/corn starch mixture and beat until stiff and glossy. Pile it on top of the custard and sprinkle with a bit of toasted coconut.

Bake at 325 degrees for 10-15 minutes. (Diane uses a convection oven at B Line.) Let pie rest an hour or more to allow meringue to set.

Eat.

Simplicity itself and one of the best <\n>things you will ever put into your mouth--guaranteed!

Diana--child baker, Spanish scholar, poet, Tucson firefighter, mother, partner and infectious smiler--has been at the B Line for a couple of months. "I guess I am still figuring out what I want to do," she said, laughing. Here's hoping she continues doing what she already does so well.

Got a favorite pie recipe? Send it to me--I'm in the mood to try some new things.

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